Sometimes I’m asked “can I do infrared sauna with a new tattoo?” Well, if you’re spending £50-150 pounds for a small to medium-sized tattoo, and sometimes even more, you want to be assured of beautiful results.
What’s even more important is that the tattoo stays on your skin semi-forever, so, you’ll want the outcome to be as perfect as possible. Therefore, in this blog post, I consider the question of whether “will an infrared sauna affect a new tattoo?”
Let’s first start with an introduction though - you'll have to understand the basics of what happens physiologically in your body after a tattoo to later understand the effects of using an infrared sauna. So let's explore those basics first:
Introduction: What A New Tattoo Does To Your Skin And Health
To understand how an infrared sauna affects a new tattoo specifically and your health in general, I must first introduce you to what happens after you get a new tattoo. In other words, you’ll need to understand the biological physiology of what happens after a tattoo…
So here’s a crash course:
Fortunately, there’s lots of high-quality science available on what happens after you set a tattoo (1; 2; 3; 4; 5; 6). I will also state that I won’t go into the long-term medical consequences of tattoos. Some of these consequences exist but there’s no reason to give value judgments because of the goal of this blog post.
Now, what’s important is that light does interact with tattoos. Lasers, which emit light, are commonly used to remove tattoos for instance. And, infrared saunas also emit a form of light that’s - as the name already implies - “infrared”. That infrared light, in this case, is both light and internally heating up your cells.
Also, if you expose your tattoo to “ultraviolet light” - the light that can give you a sunburn - then the tattoo will also fade over time. Even during the first few months, for that reason, it’s smart not to expose your tattoo to too much sunlight.
So, scientists know that light affects the looks of a tattoo, the question is only “how much” and whether infrared light also has an influence.
Now here's the most important fact to keep in mind for this blog post:
After getting a tattoo, your skin is healing. A new tattoo is very traumatic for your skin in the same way that a wound is. You don’t suffer from either low levels of pain to extreme pain for nothing when getting a new tattoo. That pain is an indication that damage is being done to the skin.
As a result, your skin needs quite a lot of healing after you get a new tattoo. There’s more though, the wound is not just mechanical but because of tattoo ink, many potential toxins are involved. One very good review sums these toxins up:
“These could pose toxicological risks to human health, if present beyond permissible limits. PAH such as Benzo(a)pyrene is present in carbon black ink. PAAs could be formed inside the skin as a result of reductive cleavage of organic azo dyes. They are reported to be highly carcinogenic by environmental protection agencies. Heavy metals, namely, cadmium, lead, mercury, antimony, beryllium, and arsenic are responsible for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, lungs, kidneys, liver, endocrine, and bone diseases. Mercury, cobalt sulphate, other soluble cobalt salts, and carbon black are in Group 2B, which means they may cause cancer in humans. Cadmium and compounds of cadmium, on the other hand, are in Group 1 (carcinogenic to humans).“ (7)
I’m not hereby saying you shouldn’t take a tattoo - many people expose themselves to toxins on a daily basis because of activities that make them happy. For instance, many people drink alcohol in society even though they know about the potential negative health consequences.
So, instead, you and I just need to be aware of the consequences and make informed health decisions. These toxins, such as heavy metals, are a further insult to your skin, thereby requiring your skin more time to heal.
Don't enter a sauna with a new tattoo! And, how long will recovery take until you can use a sauna? Let's explore that dynamic in the next section:
Will An Infrared Sauna Affect A New Tattoo - A Tale Of Precautionary Principles
The infrared sauna new tattoo links are quite simple: both heat and sweating can and will influence a new tattoo! So, especially during the first hours and even first days, I don’t recommend getting inside an infrared sauna at all because you’ll get high levels of moisture on your skin due to sweating and lots of heat exposure.
Even in the first weeks you should avoid a sauna, ideally. So when can you enter an infrared sauna again?
Simple: when your skin has finally healed and you no longer see any signs of healing, it should be safe. Just to be sure and to build in a margin of error, I even recommend waiting another 1-2 weeks to ensure all underlying tissues have healed as well.
The reason for that is that your body prioritises superficial skin healing (to prevent invaders from entering your body) over deeper skin healing (8; 9). So, even though your skin might appear to be healed from the outside, internal healing processes probably take one or two more weeks to finish. In other words, if the inflammation and redness on the surface have gone away, it doesn't mean that deeper skin levels have fully healed.
Overall, here's the perspective you have to take:
You have to conceive of a new tattoo as being similar to a wound that is healing. You wouldn’t expose an open wound to seawater, extreme heat, or lots of sweat that’s coming out of your skin either.
Of course, this process varies from person to person. If you’re 70 years old the healing process will probably be slower than someone who is 20 years old, all other factors staying equal. If you’re in good health then the healing process will also be slower compared to someone in poor health.
Also, as a general rule, the bigger the tattoo, the longer the healing time. On average, full healing of the superficial skin tissues takes between five and six weeks. Internal skin tissues thus take seven to eight weeks, on average.
Don't ignore this recommendation and avoid saunas in the meantime. The result of ignoring this advice is a higher risk of skin infections, more swelling, slower healing of the tattooed area, fading of the tattoo, and much more.
But let’s switch topics - you'll also want to know about the long-term consequences of saunas, right? What if you've got a tattoo for years now, and wonder what the effects of infrared saunas are? Let's explore that topic:
Do Infrared Saunas Fade Tattoos Long-Term?
Recall that lasers, using light, are used to remove tattoos (10; 11; 12; 13; 14; 15). This process uses a high intensity of light, with “pulsing”, that breaks loose the particles under the skin giving the tattoo colour. As a result, the colour fades. Also, both heat exposure and ultraviolet light exposure from the sun can cause independent problems in the skin for people with tattoos (16; 17).
Many tattoo artists also claim that sweating makes a tattoo fade quicker, although I cannot find any evidence for that claim in the medical literature. Testing that hypothesis would also be quite difficult. Nevertheless, if sweating affects a tattoo, then long-term, spending time inside an infrared sauna or even a regular sauna will speed up the fading process.
Whether that risk is worth it for you is up to you. My opinion is that the benefits of spending time sweating inside an infrared sauna far outweigh the downsides of a fading tattoo. You can let your tattoo artist keep your tattoo fresh over time, and, still, receive the huge benefits of an infrared sauna for your overall health.
A good analogy here is sunlight exposure. Sunlight has huge overall benefits to your health assuming you don't overdo it and don't get a sunburn. And yet, sunlight exposure will fade your tattoo quicker over time. Does that mean I would recommend avoiding the sun? Not at all. The same is true for the sweating and heat from an infrared sauna: your health is far better off long-term by regularly using a sauna, assuming you don't have any health issues preventing you from enjoying the sauna.
So, get your sauna sessions in, and let your tattoo artist worry about ensuring your tattoo looks good. And with that being said, let's conclude:
Conclusion: Better Be Safe Than Sorry
So, finally, “will an infrared sauna affect a new tattoo?” The answer is a resounding “yes”. It’s smarter to be careful if you’ve got a new tattoo and even wait a bit until all symptoms of the recovery after a new tattoo have vanished.
Even over time, spending time in the sauna might speed up the process of making tattoos less clear over time. And yet, the huge benefits of infrared saunas almost certainly outweigh the downsides - hence: get your sauna sessions in. In the same way you shouldn't avoid all sunlight exposure because it fades a tattoo, you shouldn't avoid a sauna either.